Freak Mountain Ramblers will bring their roots rock to the Grand Lodge this weekend

Way out where Cornelius Pass Road crosses Skyline Boulevard lies a little area known to the locals as Freak Mountain. Not 13 years ago, Freak Mountain was home to three ramblin’ musicians of Portland’s alternative music past — guitarist-vocalist Kevin “Bingo” Richey, guitarist-vocalist Jimmy Boyer and bassist Dave Reisch of the notorious Holy Modal Rounders.

It was around 1998 when these musicians, along with drummer Roger North (also an original of Portland’s Holy Modal Rounders) and washboard player Paul Bissett, reunited to start singing old tunes together every Sunday night at the Laurelthirst Pub.

Six months later, they were a band again. Someone suggested the name Freak Mountain Ramblers, and it stuck. People once again came to hear some of the same musicians they rooted for in Portland’s early alternative scene of the 1970s and 1980s.

Six CDs later, minus a few players and plus former Clamtones guitarist-fiddler Lex Browning and guitarist Turtle VanDemarr, the Freak Mountain Ramblers are touring free throughout Oregon to all McMenamins hotel venues. The band will play at Forest Grove’s Grand Lodge on Friday, July 20.

Classified by their Americana roots music, the Freak Mountain Ramblers sound swings from rock n’ roll to bluegrass and country, and really hasn’t changed much over the past 30 or 40 years.

To Oregon from the East

“That’s what I like about it,” said North, who began playing for the Holy Modal Rounders in 1972, when he and several band mates moved to Oregon from the East Coast. “We are of the age we don’t feel like we have to reinvent ourselves every three years,” he said.

When the Rounders moved to Oregon, the music scene in Portland was just lighting up in bars and taverns after the lifting of a ban on music in bars that kept a muzzle on the city’s rock scene.

Original members of the band had their first show at White Eagle and bounced around other clubs, such as Euphoria on the east side, Key Largo downtown and Billy’s La Bamba. It was “a healthy little local band scene,” said North.

North drummed for the Rounders until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Portland’s music scene shifted to electronic, punk and harder rock — and the band’s roots music faded with time.

After that, people went their own directions. North played in Swing Line Cubs, a wedding event band, for eight or nine years in the 1990s. In 1998, North reunited with former Rounder Dave Reisch, and acquainted friends from the Golden Delicious, the Clamtones, Richard Cranium and the Phoreheads, Prairie Dogs, Swingline Cubs, The Trail Band and The Fly By Night Jass Band to form the Freak Mountain Ramblers.

What began as a ritual Sunday reunion at Laurelthirst took on a life of its own. “All of a sudden we started getting fans again,” said North. The fact that four out of five members lead vocals, with even North chiming in on a few, is what makes Freak Mountain Ramblers a live show worth seeing.

Each musician has his own style of songs. If vocals didn’t get passed around among the front four, North says he would likely “get tired of the same voice.” Improvisation and the band’s constant rotation of singer/songwriters keeps the music ever-changing and always interesting.

The owners of McMenamins, brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin, are fans who consider Freak Mountain an extension of timeless music from the members’ eclectic past. About eight years ago, after McMenamins locations began popping up all over town, the brothers hired the Ramblers to play at their pubs.

While nighttime live music scene for their kind has slowed, North says they still play at Laurelthirst every Sunday, at occasional private shows and weddings and scattered festivals, most recently at the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland. But now that the Freak Mountain Ramblers have grown into their beards and settled down with families, they rarely leave the state. Twice a year they tour the McMenamins hotels as part of the Great Northwest Music Tour.

“They are very supportive of us,” said North of the McMenamins. “They put us up in their hotels and feed us and everything.”

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